2013

29 books
  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost

    Rebecca Solnit

    I last read this book nearly six and a half years ago; when my friend Eleanor brought it up recently to share a quote from it someone had passed on to her, it felt like perfect time for a re-read. In those six odd years, I’ve read several of Solnit’s books and have come to appreciate her particular way of getting at a subject, where bits and pieces of anecdotes and research fuse together into a nuanced perspective. Much of her work is grounded in history and various arenas of activism, so this feels very personal and nostalgic in comparison, yet I think it has more of those elements than her more recent book, The Faraway Nearby....more

  • I, etcetera

    Susan Sontag

    After reading Against Interpretation, these stories are as cerebral and absent of symbolic content as I expected. Sontag plays with form rather than creating complex plots laden with meanings, and there isn’t an extensive amount of descriptive detail. Nearly all the stories are written from some kind of first person perspective, though not in the traditional narrative sense in which it enables a feeling that the reader is somehow inside that character’s mind, privy to any passing thought. In “Old Complaints Revisited,” the narrator admits to purposefully obfuscating their identity:

    But I don’t want to go into too much detail. I’m afraid of your losing the sense of my problem as a general one.

    That’s why I have made a

    ...more
  • Against Interpretation

    Susan Sontag

    From now to the end of consciousness, we are stuck with the task of defending art. We can only quarrel with one or another means of defense. Indeed, we have an obligation to overthrow any means of defending and justifying art which becomes particularly obtuse or onerous or insensitive to contemporary needs and practices.

    This is the case, today, with the very idea of content itself. Whatever it may have been in the past, the idea of content is today mainly a hindrance, a nuisance, a subtle or not so subtle philistinism.

    Despite being fascinated by Susan Sontag, I haven’t actually read much of her work, so it was inevitable that at some point I would end up with three of her...more

  • The Faraway Nearby

    Rebecca Solnit

    I expect even some of the most stalwart of Solnit’s fans would not consider this her best book, as it seems a bit scattered, though it’s similar in general feel to A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Its “Russian-doll” structure functions less like burrowing deeper into the complexities of a difficult period of her life and more like the tide retreating away from solid ground only to flow back in. Yet for me the timing of this book was uncanny, as I kept finding topical moments throughout. Solnit has a lot to say about telling our stories, of the vagaries of illness, of the possibilities of empathy, of the slow pace of change, and of the isolated time she...more

  • Across the Land and the Water

    W.G. Sebald

    Translator Iain Galbraith’s introduction is one of the best parts of this book, as it includes “an example … of the difficulty of translating Sebald’s poetry”:

    Many of the poems in this volume—which opens with a train journey—reenact travel “across” various kinds of land and water (even if the latter is only the fluid of dreams). Indeed, several, as the writer’s archive reveals, were actually written “on the road,” penned on hotel stationery, menus, the backs of theatre programs, in cities that Sebald visited.

    He goes on to talk about a poem titled “Somewhere” that involves a small town called Türkenfeld, which is an area Sebald would have passed through often, yet:

    … it is well for a translator to be aware that

    ...more
  • Joseph Anton

    Salman Rushdie

    Recounting nine years of living in protective custody after the Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced him to death, Rushdie’s memoir is befittingly hefty at over 630 pages. About three-quarters of the way into it, the tediousness of his ongoing fight to live freely comes through all too clear. In addition to describing the particulars of living constantly with a team of security personnel and the various meetings to try to force Iran to overturn the fatwa, Rushdie also covers general life stories including his several marriages and infidelities as well as his writing process and various parties he attended and celebrities he met, despite the restrictions to his personal freedom.

    Though I’ve only read Midnight’s Children years and years ago, it...more

  • All Things Glorious and True

    Kat Asharya

    I met Kat back in zine times, when people made friends through trades and letters, and those friends were often a combination of allies, collaborators, and maybe even the cool cousins you might not have had in your given family. As such I distinctly remember getting one of Kat’s zines and going to rent Breathless because she used stills from the film as background art — a quietly expansive moment in my film appreciation history. It was telling reading this collection of essays from Kat’s departed blog NOGOODFORME that I was familiar with most of the films she mentions either because I reflexively continued following her suggestions or I developed similar interests.

    NOGOODFORME started as a fashion blog but...more

  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

    Maria Semple

    There are many unbelievable things in this epistolary novel inspired by Maria Semple’s move from LA to Seattle, but maybe the biggest is that average people would write such long, detailed emails — and, at times, faxes? Semple found Seattle’s crunchy, sustainable culture hard to stomach at first, which is how the book begins with a report card from a private school where the grades are all phrased around “excellence” so as not to erode any kids’ self-esteem. These digs at West Coast liberalism can be fairly entertaining, but it makes it a bit harder to develop much connection to the characters through the “satire of privilege.”

    The family at the center of the book includes the stunningly brilliant child Bee, recipient...more

  • Leaving the Atocha Station

    Ben Lerner

    If I was a poet, I had become one because poetry, more intensely than any other practice, could not evade its anachronism and marginality and so constituted a kind of acknowledgment of my own preposterousness, admitting my bad faith in good faith, so to speak. I could lie about my interest in the literary response to war because by making a mockery of the notion that literature could be commensurate with mass murder I was not defaming the victims of the latter, but the dilettantes of the former, rejecting the political claims repeatedly made by the so-called left for a poetry radical only in its unpopularity.

    It’s clear early on that either the insufferably narcissistic poet that centers this story will...more

  • A Tale for the Time Being

    Ruth Ozeki

    I hadn’t thought about Ruth Ozeki much in the many years since I read My Year of Meats. A Tale for the Time Being has some comparable elements, including multiple points of view and semi-parallel story lines as well as similarities to Ozeki’s life and identity. Though this one takes it a bit further with a main character named Ruth who lives with her husband Oliver on an island in British Columbia, apparently similar to the one Ozeki lives in when she’s not in New York City.

    Ruth is struggling to work on a memoir about her mother’s long illness and death when she discovers a lunchbox washed up on the shore containing several mysterious things, including a diary from...more

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